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A Philanthropic Way of Life

People behind the science

Date: July 1, 2012
Weizmann Magazine Vol. 2
Dame Vivien Duffield stands in front of a portrait of her father, Sir Charles Clore.

Dame Vivien Duffield stands in front of a portrait of her father, Sir Charles Clore.

When Vivien Clore stepped off the plane on her first visit to Israel as a child in the 1950s, her first glimpse was of “an amazing man with white hair flowing everywhere, jabbering to us as he went up the stairs of the plane to greet us.” That man was Meyer Weisgal, the personal assistant of Dr. Chaim Weizmann and a driving force in the creation of the Weizmann Institute. He was there to escort Sir Charles Clore and his two children, Vivien and Alan, to the Institute campus in Rehovot, where they would spend their first of many Passovers.

Indeed, the Clore family relationship with Weizmann is unique – one of deep commitment to Israel, science and science education. “No link is as strong as with the Weizmann Institute,” says Dame Vivien. Her story is of a young girl’s exposure to the Institute and some of its earliest founders leading to a lifelong friendship – one that has benefited generations of scientists, students and members of the Israeli public, as well as the advancement of science and education in Israel.

The fragrance of oranges

Sir Charles Clore (1904-1979) was a successful London businessman, “an entrepreneurial genius” according to the Independent. He owned the British Shoe Corporation, Selfridges department store and the Clore Shipping Company, and he invested in real estate. Vivien’s mother, Francine Halphen, was related to the Sassoon and the Rothschild families; she had been a heroine of the French resistance in World War II. When not traveling for work, Sir Charles went to Palestine. His first trip, in the 1920s, was fueled by curiosity about the place in which his friends Sir Isaac Wolfson and Lord Israel Sieff were becoming increasingly involved.

Sir Charles witnessed Israel Sieff’s support of Chaim Weizmann in laying the groundwork for the Balfour Declaration of 1917. He, himself, supported Israel and Rebecca Sieff in establishing the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in 1934 in memory of their son; in 1949 and with the blessing of the Sieff family, it would be renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science. The highly philanthropic Sir Isaac Wolfson established the Wolfson Charitable Trust and the Wolfson Foundation, giving generously to causes in Israel and in particular to the Weizmann Institute.

Dame Vivien recalls her first trip to Israel in 1956, at age 11: “I felt tremendous excitement. It was the biggest event of my life.” With no direct flights to Israel, they stopped in Paris, Rome, Athens and Cyprus before arriving in Tel Aviv. The family stayed for two weeks at the home of Abba Eban on the Weizmann campus – steps away from the private residences of the Wolfsons and Weisgals. (At the time, Eban was away serving as Israel’s ambassador to the US and its permanent representative in the UN.) Dame Vivien and her family spent the next eight Passovers on the Weizmann campus, celebrating with the Sieff, Wolfson and Weisgal families. She also came to know the scientists and their families, including Profs. David Samuel, Leo Sachs and Aharon Katzir.

Dame Vivien loved the campus’ grassy open spaces and its rural surroundings, particularly “the wonderful smell of the orange groves – something we didn’t have in England.” When Israel Sieff’s son Marcus warned her about the jackals that howled at night, she was terrified. (Marcus and his son David became close friends of the Institute and held various key leadership positions; Marcus was chairman of the Board and the Institute’s only chancellor).

“The jackals were howling away indeed,” she recalls. “But it was a peaceful place. We used to walk to synagogue. Rehovot was like a village in those days. We came because of our friends, and it was a wonderful small community of English Jews who helped build the Institute, together with its earliest American donors.”

Giving and building

Sir Charles became a member of Weizmann’s Board of Governors, giving his first major gift to the Institute in 1964 for the construction of the Charles Clore International House. This building housed 80 graduate students; the top floor was originally a flat for the Clore family. (Now a historic preservation site, it is undergoing extensive renovation.) In addition to Weizmann, Jerusalem became a major focus of his giving, an outgrowth of Clore’s close friendship with the city’s late mayor Teddy Kollek. Dame Vivien continues to contribute to both through the Clore Israel Foundation, which her father established in 1965. By the time Sir Charles’ father died, the family ties to Israel had grown so close, he was buried in Petah Tikva.

Dame Vivien’s father had great respect for Israeli ingenuity and tenacity. At a 1962 dinner held by the Weizmann Institute in his honor in London, he said: “The Israelis, with their very limited resources, have ways of doing things, which, by all the rules, can be shown to be technically impossible. It is a country which must live by the quality of its men and women and not by its raw materials, and it has shown that the dividends are enormous when a nation beset by difficulties faces its problems without fear.”

Sir Charles never taught his children philanthropy, says Dame Vivien. She learned by example: “Philanthropy was just part of our life; especially so in Israel. When we landed, hoards of people would try to get in the plane and grab Dad to ask him for money before others could talk to him. He couldn’t stay in the country for more than two or three weeks because he would go broke.” When she turned 21, her father gave her a present of £100,000. She used it to establish her own foundation.

Sir Charles passed away in 1979. Since then, Dame Vivien has run the Clore Israel Foundation, which has given so widely that the Clore name is known to every Israeli. She also runs the Clore Duffield Foundation in the UK, which focuses on children and the arts. She is a long-time member of the Institute’s International and Executive Boards and its committees, and a former Deputy Chairman of the International Board. In May, she was inducted into the President’s Circle in recognition of her long history of service and generosity to the Institute.

While Clore philanthropy has touched every corner of the Institute, Dame Vivien has some favorites: the restoration of the Chaim Weizmann house on the occasion of her father’s 75th birthday in 1974, the establishment of the prestigious Clore Prize for outstanding scientists – which originally funded nonscience projects as well as scientific ones – and the Clore Garden of Science, the Institute’s outdoor science museum.

Her foundation has also funded the School of Contemporary Science at the Davidson Institute of Science Education; the Clore Center for Biological Physics; the Clore Scholarships and Clore Postdoctoral Scholarships, which have gone to hundreds of recipients; and more.

Philanthropy is her life’s passion and purpose. It is her career and the focus of most of her outsized energies, so that her beneficiaries not only benefit from her financial generosity but her engagement and involvement in their causes.

“I’ve absorbed the science over the years, but I am most interested in the sacrifices scientists make and the education they must attain to get to where they are,” she says.

One of her recent, ongoing gifts is to the National Postdoctoral Award Institute for Advancing Women in Science (see p. 38). The foundation has supported 10 such fellowships so far. “In my generation, having a husband, children, and a career was a rarity,” says Dame Vivien. “In this generation, if a woman chooses to have it all, then I believe every bit of encouragement should be given to her.”

Dame Vivien’s daughter and son have taken up the Clore legacy: Arabella, who recently joined the International Board, spent 20 years in Africa working on children’s welfare and health, and George runs a foundation dedicated to preserving marine life and reversing over-fishing. He is also making an IMAX movie about Jerusalem. Like their mother, the two first came as small children to Weizmann. Arabella spent a teenage summer on campus in the Bessie Lawrence International Summer Science Institute.

Dame Vivien is optimistic that philanthropy in Israel and to Weizmann will only increase – especially as wealthy Israelis begin to give more. “Weizmann stands out through luck, foresight and the talent of its scientists, and it is a beacon of light to the world,” she says. “But Weizmann’s future is also dependent on the state of affairs in Israel, and that is also something I’m optimistic about.”

(L-R) Meyer Weisgal and Sir Charles Clore review plans for the Charles Clore International House

(L-R) Meyer Weisgal and Sir Charles Clore review plans for the Charles Clore International House

Dame Vivien Clore Duffield at the inauguration of the Clore Prize, 1981

Dame Vivien Clore Duffield at the inauguration of the Clore Prize, 1981

Sir Charles Clore with grandchildren George and Arabella

Sir Charles Clore with grandchildren George and Arabella